Alternate headline: “Trump’s approval rises another five points among Republicans.”
Lotta noteworthy lines in the clip below, including Trump allegedly telling the delegation that some members of ISIS are communist and therefore Democrats might relate to them, yet the elephant in the room — impeachment — was supposedly never addressed. This was a meeting to discuss his policy on Syria, not Ukraine or the looming attempt to oust him from office. But it was a cinch under the circumstances that it would go badly and, uh, it did. Very badly.
If you can spare five and a half minutes, I strongly recommend watching all of it (it runs until 7:15 or so before the CNN panel takes over). It’s something.
Schumer says there that Trump called Pelosi a “third-rate” politician. Pelosi says he called her a “third-grade” politician, which makes much less sense. But oh well. She got in her licks too:
per senior Democratic aide, the Speaker told the President at the WH his policy had given Russia the “foothold in the Middle East” that Moscow has always wanted
Pelosi to Trump directly: “All roads with you lead to Putin”
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 16, 2019
Afterward, back at the Capitol, she said, “I pray for the president all the time, and I tell him that — I pray for his safety and that of his family. Now, we have to pray for his health — because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.” Hoo boy.
Apart from Schumer claiming that Mark Esper seemed far less confident about the fate of ISIS prisoners than Trump did, the key bit is Pelosi claiming that Trump seemed “shaken” by the fact that more than two-thirds of his own party in the House today voted with Democrats to condemn his decision to pull the plug on America’s alliance with the Kurds. Who could blame him? Look at the headlines this week. Rudy Giuliani seems to be in increasingly dire criminal (and counterintelligence) jeopardy; Trump’s own former aides are giving damaging testimony to Democrats about how irregular the president’s handling of Ukraine policy was; some aides are beginning to point fingers; and the man at the center of the inquiry, Gordon Sondland, is allegedly prepared to say that there was some sort of quid pro quo with Ukraine, albeit not an improper one involving military aid. There’s ominous stuff in today’s papers too:
Mr. Mulvaney was involved in the effort to freeze $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine ahead of the July call. Mr. Trump directed him days ahead of the call to place a hold on the aid.
Mr. Mulvaney has told associates that the administration paused the aid to try to push Ukraine to more robustly fight corruption, not in connection with pressuring Ukraine to uncover dirt on of Mr. Trump’s political rivals. Since releasing the transcript last month, the White House has tried to cast its pressure campaign as itself an anticorruption effort, though to little effect.
“Fighting corruption” has always been how Trump and his cronies like Giuliani have framed their interest in the Biden/Burisma matter in Ukraine. Go back and read the Times’s interview with Rudy from May, when he specifically identified the Biden matter as being of interest and said that information gleaned from the Burisma probe “will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.” Now Mulvaney’s reportedly telling people that, yes, the military aid promised to Ukraine *was* being withheld to put pressure on Ukraine to “fight corruption.” All you have to do is connect those two dots, “corruption” and Biden/Burisma, and you allegedly have the chief of staff admitting that there was a Biden-related quid pro quo involving money that was supposed to be sent to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia.
So yeah, understandably, the president is on edge. And now, facing a big impeachment and removal vote soon, he had to endure a nerve-wracking show of disloyalty by the House GOP on the big Syria vote. He knows he won’t be removed by the Senate, but the more bipartisan the impeachment process is, the less pressure right-leaning swing voters may feel next year to fall in line at the polls. If X number of Republicans in Congress judged Trump unfit to continue his first term, why should moderate Republican voters hand him a second?
Kevin McCarthy, ever loyal, insisted afterward that it was Democrats who had a meltdown by storming out of the meeting. Cocaine Mitch was more … diplomatic, though:
McConnell tells reporters, “I didn't make any observations in the meeting. I don't have any to make now.”
— Emily Cochrane (@ESCochrane) October 16, 2019
Another interesting tidbit coming out of the meeting and reported by more than one outlet this afternoon was Trump insulting James Mattis:
NEW–> Trump called Mattis the "world's most overrated general" during the meeting with congressional leaders on Syria, three sources tell me + @mikedebonis. Prompted when Schumer pointed to Mattis comments that ISIS would resurge after the troop withdrawals
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) October 16, 2019
A Dem source familiar with WH mtg says Trump called Mattis "the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take 2 yrs. I captured them in 1 month"
— Amanda Terkel (@aterkel) October 16, 2019
Why Trump continues to say and do things before an impeachment trial that might make Senate Republicans more inclined to remove him, I don’t know. He surely realizes that they hold Mattis in esteem even if he doesn’t. He also must have known that his insult would leak. Certainly he knows that Mattis has been reluctant to criticize Trump despite many invitations to do so. Why swipe at the guy at a moment when Senate GOPers hold his fate in their hands? Why rush headlong into a Syria withdrawal that’s destined to piss off even otherwise loyal Republicans in the House?
McConnell and Lindsey Graham reportedly ran through a Powerpoint on impeachment at today’s Senate GOP conference meeting. The trial will be held six days a week, with Republicans hoping to wrap up by the end of the year assuming that Pelosi follows through on impeachment before Thanksgiving, as expected. In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with one more deep thought from today’s White House huddle with party leaders from both sides. Who cares about a bunch of far-flung jihadis targeting America, anyway?
NEW DETAIL per three sources: Trump said several times in mtg he wasn't concerned about terrorists 7,000 miles away. After Pelosi & Hoyer left, @RepLizCheney spoke up to remind Trump that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 "came from 7,000 miles away" themselves. https://t.co/FySaRMsSzc
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) October 16, 2019